Continuing today, and for the next 15 weeks, The Pipeline will present excerpts from each of the essays contained in Against the Great Reset: 18 Theses Contra the New World Order, to be published on October 18 by Bombardier Books and distributed by Simon and Schuster, and available now for pre-order at the links.
It is a good rule of thumb that one should become skeptical—and perhaps also concerned—whenever everyone in a position of authority starts to say the same thing. Particularly when they also all do so at the same time.
Such a moment arrived in 2020 when nearly every Western statesman, and a few others who might aspire to that role, began to use the phrase “Build Back Better.” Boris Johnson claimed that he might have used it first. Joe Biden seemed to believe that he had. But they were hardly the only people to use it from the early days of the Covid-19 crisis onwards. Almost overnight, it seemed as though absolutely everyone was using the same words. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it down in New Zealand. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used it in Canada. Bill Clinton used it as he was campaigning for Joe Biden. And the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, used it as he was campaigning for himself. Even minor royals could be heard parroting the same alliterative pleasantry. According to Prince Harry, speaking from his self-imposed exile in California, the Covid pandemic “undoubtedly” presents “an opportunity for us to work together and build back better.”
The prince is no stranger to political cliché, as he showed there, managing to pack in two of them into just half a sentence. Yet nor did people far more self-aware than him at any stage seem to realize that the phrase sounded strange in the first place, never mind that they should all also be using it at the same time. A year and a half after the phrase was first being used, President Joe Biden was still struggling to get his Build Back Better bill through the U.S. Senate. The phrase became so ubiquitous that almost no one in a position of power stopped to ask the question that ought surely to have loomed.
Why should a global pandemic be seen as simply an opportunity? In the immediate aftermath of the coronavirus leaking out from Wuhan, China, millions of people around the world died from the effects of contracting that virus. The global economy contracted at an unprecedented rate. Government borrowing soared to rates unknown outside of wartime in order to furlough millions of people who would otherwise have been destitute. Entire economies—including a U.S. economy that was roaring in an election year—were suddenly forced to a halt. None of this looked like a source of optimism. Ordinarily, the mass laying off of the workforce, the racking up of unprecedented peacetime debt, and the ordered shuttering away of the citizenry in their houses would be a source of concern and fury before it was a cause for optimism and opportunity.
But with only a couple of notable exceptions, during the Covid era, Western politicians skipped the rage stage. Indeed, they even skipped over the blame stage. Just as the WHO and other compromised international bodies failed to get to the roots of the source of the virus, so most Western politicians spent zero time or political capital on the question of why the virus had been unleashed on the world in the first place. Instead, they jumped straight to the question of just how much could be achieved by the unprecedented opportunity that the virus had allegedly gifted us.
Within a little over a year, politicians themselves seemed to be laughing at the phrase, even as they could not stop using it. In October 2021, Boris Johnson’s office seemed to imagine that the British public had become so thrilled by the “build back better” tagline that it was time for some riffs on the theme. At this stage, somewhere between lockdowns umpteen and nineteen, Johnson released a number of videos on his social media pages in which the slogan build back better was posted on the screen. Johnson seemed to imagine that the British public was in a playful mood around the theme. The videos included one of him spreading butter on some pieces of toast and looking at the camera and saying “build back butter.” In a second video, with the build back better motif over it, the Prime Minister could be seen unrolling a packet of fish and chips. “Mmm” he says appreciatively, before looking at the camera and saying “Build back batter.” Terms like “pathetic” and “inadequate” would fail to do justice to such political moments.
The obvious comparison to make at this stage is with great plagues in history. And though most were of a degree of seriousness that far outweighs the effects of Covid, it is a sobering consideration. Who, for instance, viewed the so-called “Spanish flu” of a century ago as an opportunity? Who would have dared in the early months or years after that pandemic ravaged the planet to see it as an opportunity to rebuild the global economy in a different way?
There are two things that are most visibly disturbing about the political reaction to all of this. The first is the desire to leapfrog over the most obvious stage in the post-pandemic era. Which should have been a clinical, careful and failsafe analysis of how this novel coronavirus managed to come out of Wuhan. The second disturbing thing is that the leap should have immediately moved on to a restructuring of the global economy and of free societies that seemed already to be sitting there, ready-made.
The extent to which that first stage was leaped over has many reasons. But one of these undoubtedly had much to do with the incumbent in the White House when the “China virus” first came into the world. President Trump was in an election year and was understandably intent on not shuttering the U.S. economy ahead of an election. He was also keen to attribute blame toward the place where he saw the virus originating. Whether the cause of the leak was a Wuhan wet market (as was early on deemed the only permissible explanation) or the Wuhan Institute of Virology (as soon seemed likelier), Trump was keen that China got the blame for releasing the virus into the world. And there was much to be said for this. Even if the leak had been an accident, it was one that the Chinese authorities did nothing to contain, allowing flights out of the region even as the first knowledge of the virus made the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) shutter flights and regions within Chinese borders.
But keen observers will have noticed that Trump was a divisive president and that what he said was the case was strenuously pushed back against by his critics when it was true as well as when it was not. Early in 2020, as Trump continued to talk about the source of the virus, his political opponents decided to claim that identifying China as the source of the virus would lead to an upsurge in anti-Chinese racism. And so Democrat Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, for instance, not only deplored the president’s language but also implored Americans to demonstrate their contempt for the president’s “racism” in a practical way. Speaker Pelosi implored people to visit their local Chinatown and show solidarity with Chinese people. In Florence, Italy, the mayor went one better in the global game of grandstanding against Trump. On February 1, 2020, Dario Nardella urged Florentines to “hug a Chinese” person to combat racism. It is not known how many Italians contracted the virus through this demonstration of Sino-fraternalism.
The point is that from the earliest stage of the virus, the opportunity to point fingers appeared to have been queered by the fact that one of the only people in the world pointing fingers was a person who most of the political class around the world were ostentatiously opposed to. Even to speak of lab leaks or Chinese culpability in those days was to sound Trump-like, a fact that played very well indeed into the public relations campaign orchestrated by the CCP.
The effectiveness of that PR campaign was visible from the very start of the virus, and showed the extent to which a swathe of the scientific, media, and political establishments in the West were already literally or figuratively in the pocket of the CCP...
Next week: an excerpt from "Sovereignty and the Nation-State" by Roger Kimball.
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